Tweets aside, Sullivan says Trump good for Alaska

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan studies notes in the House Speaker's Chambers while waiting for the Alaska House of Representatives and Senate to jointly convene for his annual address on Feb. 26, 2018. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan studies notes just before his annual address to the state Legislature. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Sen. Dan Sullivan, in his annual address to the state Legislature, said he doesn’t like all of President Trump’s tweets but he likes what the Trump administration is doing for Alaska. There’s not a lot of daylight between them when you look at the senator’s voting record.

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Barely two minutes into the speech, Sullivan made the rhetorical equivalent of an eye-roll. It was as he was saying he sees the annual address as an opportunity to step back and look at the big picture.

“But being in elected office, we can get caught up in the news of the day,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes as a result of an intemperate tweet or two. Or three. Or four. ”

During the 2016 presidential election, Sullivan called on Trump to step down as the Republican nominee after the “Access Hollywood” tape became public. Whatever their differences in style, Sullivan and Trump are alike on many policies. According to the data-crunchers at the website FiveThirtyEight, Sullivan’s votes agree with Trump’s position more than 95 percent of the time. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Trump-agreement score is 83 percent The average for Republicans is just over 92 percent.)

In his speech, Sullivan made it clear he’s embracing what Trump DOES, at least for Alaska. As for what the president SAYS, Sullivan is keeping some distance.

“I disagree with a number of the statements and tweets made by President Trump,” Sullivan said. “But in terms of a federal government that is finally working to help grow Alaska’s economy, we are making significant progress.”

Sullivan cited new opportunities for oil development in the Arctic Refuge and elsewhere, the president’s support for a King Cove road and progress on the gas line.

“And the feds are also listening to us as we continue to place well-qualified Alaskans into the highest levels of the federal government,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan named five Alaskans working in the Trump administration: Joe Balash is at the Interior Department, in charge of oil & gas on federal lands. Chris Oliver oversees federal fisheries at NOAA. Drue Pearce is at the Transportation Department. Chris Hladick is the EPA administrator for Alaska and the Northwest, and Tara Sweeney has been nominated to be assistant Interior secretary for Indian Affairs.

Sullivan said the Alaskan Trump appointees will protect Alaska’s interests as they apply national policies.

On gun control, Sullivan says he’ll evaluate proposals arising out of the latest school shooting.

“However, as Alaskans we understand how important our 2nd Amendment rights are,” Sullivan said. “We use firearms not only for self-defense but as a tool to feed our families.”

At a press conference afterward, Sullivan said he has “serious doubts” about President Trump’s proposal to raise the age limit for guns to 21.

“I mean, to me, that would not work in Alaska,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says the problem of school violence should be considered more broadly.

“Which includes, Are we poisoning the minds of our children by having them watch movies and video games that glorify killing people?” Sullivan said. “I mean just turn on any movie. Those didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago.”

Sullivan said he knows wading into cultural issues could make him vulnerable for ridicule. He raised the specter of Tipper Gore. She was mocked in the 80s for campaigning to get warning stickers on albums with profane lyrics. But Sullivan said it’s important to consider culture in the debate over how to keep children safe.

State Sen. Berta Gardner, a Democrat from Anchorage, said Sullivan gave a strong speech that hit many of the points legislators wanted to hear. She said, though, she wished he’d talked about increasing Alaska’s share of revenues from offshore drilling, and that he’d said more about advancing the gas line.

KTOO reporter Andrew Kitchenman contributed to this report.